July 25, 2007

Dopey WNJ Letter of the Week

David C. Martin of the Delaware Assn. of Humanism has the mistaken belief that the First Amendment has been abused over and above what the Founders had intended:

Our society is based on the rule of law derived from the Constitution, a document encompassing humanistic thought. Our Founding Fathers were inspired by the philosophers of the Enlightenment, which embraced humanism as the way to a more perfect world in which individuals are free to determine their destiny without fear of state imposition.

Religion is mentioned once in the First Amendment, which guarantees the right to worship freely and forbids Congress from establishing a particular religion. Over time the intent of the First Amendment was ignored by overzealous politicians who catered to constituents to maintain power. The Constitution protects the minority from the tyranny of the majority, With this abuse, it's not surprising people are under the impression that we are a Christian nation.

Despite this, humanistic emphasis on the freedom of the individual is woven into our society. The secular nature of our Constitution has stood the test of time.

My emphasis. While David's first paragraph is undoubtedly true, his second runs into trouble. In actuality, the Founders would be appalled at how religion has been shunned from the public sphere over the last two centuries. If the Founders were "so" intent on eliminating religion from the public arena, why did state (as in Delaware, Maryland, etc.) chrches continue to exist for years after the ratification of the Constitution? They did not cease to exist because of legislative or judicial mandate; they simply withered away due to lack of interest and participation. The 14th Amendment, which has historically been interpreted as applying the Bill of Rights to the individual states, would have made this a moot point anyway, certainly. But back to my point: It is plain silly to posit that politicians have attempted to subvert the Founders' original intent regarding religion. Religion has, simply, become less and less of a factor in American government -- and life -- since the Revolution, and in reality politicians and the judiciary have overcome what the Founders originally intended.

The Constitution and the Republic have survived not despite assaults by religion; they have survived despite radical attempts to transform what the Founders had originally desired for religion and its role in [public] life.

Posted by Hube at July 25, 2007 02:19 PM | TrackBack

Comments  (We reserve the right to edit and/or delete any comments. If your comment is blocked or won't post, e-mail us and we'll post it for you.)

I have been guilty of this myself, but it is sometimes dangerous to guess what the founding fathers meant when the spoke, Particularly when they spoke of the separation of church and state.

The founding fathers were coming off a historical series of European engagements which had been fought over varying different religious views. So much damage had been done to the European states invoked in the name of religion. They were, because of their timely proximity, determined to insure that no state religion ever took hold in this new country. So many religions were practiced here that were one to dominate, this country would never survive....

However, the founding fathers were far from being anti religious. The founding fathers were well aware that without the hand of Providence, this fledgling sliver of a nation would never have broken free. When one goes back and reads the history of this country's founding, it makes one appreciate that the fact that so many times, this nations future hung by a thread. And just in the knick of time, a certain action took place, and we were able to survive one more day. This thread goes far beyond the control of any one human being. the founding fathers believed that without God's blessing, they would not be here........

Therefore today as we approach the Constitution with our own baggage and thoughts concerning religion, we tend to see what we want to see when we read this document. The Constitution says nothing about instilling a ban on religious activity in and around government activities. It just attempts to make sure that no religion ever becomes America's state religion, at the exclusion of all others.........

Posted by: kavips at July 26, 2007 05:09 AM

Well-stated, my friend! Thanks for your comments!

Posted by: Hube at July 26, 2007 09:52 AM

I will second the being careful about the Founders' intents. Both sides of these debates will invariably cite factors in their favor, ignoring all else. The vital distinction here is to accept that the Founders made some fundamental and horrid mistakes, some of which were addressed with the Civil War Amendments, as mentioned.

The grand mistake I'm referring to here is the idea of the individual states as bastions of personal liberty. It did not enter their minds that a state government could be just as tyrannical as the federal one. To put this problem in context, we need to see the population of the whole Union at the time. Feel free to check the official Census website-- the nation was founded with about 2 million people. I grew up with as many people within a few dozen miles of me.

So, you're looking at states that had at worst a couple hundred thousand people, and even the most populous states were still quite spread out, geographically. Any displeasure with your current locale was unlikely to lead to a good majority on your side-- everyone was too far away, and mostly self-sufficient farmers to boot. Thus, the threat from any state government was negligible. Each one's small population and miniscule amount of internal friction lead to few problems. Population growth and urbanization being what they are, this situation has changed drastically within the last hundred years. We have states today with more than an order of magnitude more people than the whole nation had to start with. Its taxations on finances and freedoms have become just as possibly tyrannical as the federal government was feared to become.

So, let's put it in perspective. The Founders limited the federal government because they thought that would be the only place tyranny could sprout. Many even thought the Bill of Rights unnecessary because the government is only allowed the rights granted it-- no specific right to play with religion means it cannot. That debate is for another day, but I think the Founders' "intent" was to nip tyranny in the bud, wherever it could grow. Their view of states just falls in with their view of the formation of political parties. A big oversight, and something we've had to correct on our own recognizance when dealing with the realities of a few hundred years of growth and change.

Posted by: Chad Wellington at August 2, 2007 12:32 PM